When you walk into a board room, a meeting room, an office, or any place where you need to influence the people sitting there then you need the ability to ‘read the room’.
Reading the room is a skill that can save you in front of an audience. If you fail to read the room it will kill your opportunity to influence your audience. Case in point, Donald Trump at the Al Smith charity dinner in NYC the day after the third Presidential Debate.
What Donald should have known:
- He was speaking to Hillary’s crowd
- He telegraphs emotions with his tone
- He’s not a natural joke teller so he’s already awkward and stiff coming in the door
- He was reading directly from his notes which affects tone of voice
- Remember he was on live TV
- They are Boo-ing the material
He needed to lighten his tone, become more familiar with his notes (again, the failure to prepare), and poke more fun at himself before he went after his opponent. We humans operate on a system of mirror neurons in social settings. We tend to mirror the feelings of the people we are talking with. His harsh tone made people uncomfortable so it was hard for them to go with him. They were mirroring his anger which made them feel awkward because they were her people. He needed to recognize that fact instead of abusing them for it in his opening comments (“…you loved me when I was a Democrat and now…”)
When you are boo’d it’s over. Be nice, say something sweet (“I’m so glad to have had this chance to be a part of a great tradition of supporting children…”) and then sit down. It’s over. You’ve lost them.
Hillary, by the way, had a few clunkers herself. She wasn’t feeling the love for ole Donald and that came across in her tone but, for the most part, she carried it off. And they forgave her because they are her crowd — people she knows, are politically aligned with her, and share her values. They were mirroring affection after she opened with how much she cared about them (“…basket of adorables..”).
So the moral of the story is:
- Know your audience and how to connect with then
- Practice your material, especially if it’s jokes. If humour was easy to do we’d all be making a living doing stand-up
- It’s not about you it’s about your audience
- Be aware of how you are being received. If you’ve lost them then sit down and wait for another opportunity.
My thanks, as always, to Donald Trump. He’s the gift that just keeps giving.